Tips and Gadgets
Are you looking for some fun outdoor gear to help your son or daughter get started in the outdoors? Check out Backyard Safari Outfitters (http://www.backyardsafari.com/) They equip young children with all sorts of field gear to get their adventure imaginations going and start them exploring. My daughter Lily loved the land and water habitat this summer. She collected and studied many bugs under her magnifying glass as well. When out on a hike, what child doesn’t love a walkie talkie!
Six miles down a slot canyon with no possibility of going back up, we came to a creek bed junction. We knew we were making a loop back to our starting point 11 miles further on but had different concepts of which direction we should go. My intuition and brief memory of looking at the map in our hiking book said we should go clockwise and thus turn right. Alex’s memory on the other hand said to go counter-clockwise and thus take the canyon to the left. With no trail markers or foot prints to guide us, this would be the time to take out the map and find the correct trail. One problem, however, the book and map were back in the car!
Needless to say, it was some tense moments as we tried to figure out the correct course. I’ve always counted on Alex’s sense of direction but was pretty sure we needed to head down stream at this point. Alex, on the other hand, grew frustrated by my questioning his judgment. (This is a classic dynamic for fathers with young adult children. After years of your being in charge of everything, you want them to take more control. They on the other hand want to feel in control and also be respected by you. It’s an evolving relationship dance that can easily lead to toes being stepped on.) To make matters worse, we both knew that we wouldn’t know who was right for at least another 11 miles up the trail. Running low on water in the desert heat and sun made it all that much more stressful. If we did pick the wrong trail, we would have to retrace our steps the next day and then do another 11 miles to get out. And all without much water!
Needless to say, it was an anxious night’s sleep camping along the dry stream bed 5 miles up from where we hit the junction and wandering if we had made the right choice. We were all pretty exhausted from the day’s pack in and nervous about our dwindling supply of water. Starting out the next morning, it wasn’t until about 3 miles further up the trail that we saw our first signs of other beings in the area. While they appeared to be days old, seeing horse tracks and manure was encouraging. When hooking into another creek bed, we then found running water, deeper slot canyons and some spectacular water falls. Alex was right, we were on the right track. While we were able to laugh about it later, next time, we will all need to be sure that we have a map!
If you are thinking about slot canyons and hiking in Southern Utah, check out Favorite Hikes In & Around Zion National Park by Tanya Milligan and Bo Beck. It’s loaded with great photos and easy to understand directions and maps. They also cover hikes for every age and ability level. Perfect for planning your next adventure no matter what age kids you have. We picked up our copy at REI.
Fruita, CO is located in the western region of the state, bordering the Colorado River and Uncompahgre Plateau. It is minutes outside of Grand Junction but has a culture all its own. The hot desert climate beckons tourism in the spring and early summer, and May is the best time to visit, without a doubt. Not only is the snow gone but the weather is perfect for outdoors activities.
The city’s nickname is “Home of Mike the Headless Chicken,” and in may you can find out why. The Mike the Headless Chicken festival takes place in late May annually and celebrates the life of Mike, the headless chicken. The concept is self-explanatory: there was a chicken, Mike, and his head was chopped off yet he lived. To find out why, how, and how long, as well as for information on the festival, visit www.miketheheadlesschicken.org. The festival takes place on the streets of Fruita; this is not an event to be missed.
A year-round attraction in Fruita is the Dinosaur Journey museum. This region of Western Colorado is renowned for its excellent paleontology, including the discovery of the Fruitaden, the smallest plant eating dinosaur. The Dinosaur Diamond Scenic Byway is an excellent way to see what lies within the hills of the Western Slope. If driving is out of the question, stick to the indoor museum; www.museumofwesternco.com/visit/dinosaur-journey.
On the outdoorsy beat, visit the Colorado National Monument. Located just west of Fruita, the mountain escape offers a beautiful geologic view of Colorado. Run by the National Park Service, the monument has all of the amenities of another park or preserve. Vacationers can camp, hike, backpack, or simply drive. For more information visit the NPS web page; www.nps.gov/colm. This park is truly one of Colorado’s hidden gems that many miss due to its off-the-beaten-path location and seemingly mundane setting.
When it comes to dealing with the loss of a loved one, a teens grieving process can be long and complicated, but the non-profit educational organization Outward Bound’s local Rocky Mountain School has found a way to change this. Heroic Journey is a unique program designed to help grieving teens cope with the loss of a loved one. A strong base curriculum perfected by Outward Bound is combined with powerful grief work activities and the stunning beauty of nature to create a transformational adventure. Outward Bound Heroic Journey provides these often struggling teens with the opportunity to discover their inner strength to face and overcome challenges that they have, and will face. Heroic Journey offers adventures such as week-long Colorado backpacking trips, multi-day sailing excursions, and Eastern-United States canoe floats. The rugged expeditions require participants to find their hidden strength and leave them with a new-found confidence that will last the rest of their lives. Thanks to the New York Life Foundation, all participants will receive tuition scholarships based on need. To learn more about this program and Outward Bound’s mission view a brochure, here, or visit their website at http://www.outwardbound.org/programs/group-programs/heroic-journey/
In this brief clip, my friend Nathaniel talks about the role of consistency in his own life and the life of his son. In a culture where immediate gratification is glorified, it takes lots of consistent structure to reign in those impulses.
By no means is Hooper, CO a large ‘happening’ town, but it is quite unique. Home to about 120 people and only .2 square miles in area, Hooper is not much more than a few houses on the side of Colorado Highway 17. Its location is what makes it appealing. State Highway 17 is a common route through the San Luis Valley and if you too happen to be driving by, take an afternoon to stop and poke around. Hooper has a quaint town park that is perfect for a picnic lunch while looking at either the San Juan Mountain Range or the Sangre De Cristo range.
After lunch, give the UFO Watchtower a try. A quirky attraction at that, the UFO watchtower is a museum of sorts that lends information on UFOs. The owner, Judy, Messoline, has taken her passion for the extraterrestrial and put it to good use, building the first UFO Watchtower in the heart of the San Luis Valley where there is no light pollution, and alien encounters may be more likely. The destination makes for a great family photo shoot and a fun memory. For more information: www.ufowatchtower.com
In for another surprising adventure? Try Colorado Gators Reptile Park. Yes, that is correct; there are alligators in the heart of Colorado! Erwin Young, owner, has grown his attraction over the years into a first rate point of interest. Along with the over 300 alligators, reptiles and fish galore are on display including the Rocky Mountain White Tilapia. Get a gator tooth as a souvenir or snap a picture with a slightly less harmful baby; the memory will last a lifetime, especially if you never believed there was such a thing as a gator hole in Colorado. Visit Colorado Gators Reptile Park’s website at www.gatorfarm.com.
On a more outdoorsy note, the Great Sand Dunes National Park is less than an hour dive away. One of Colorado’s hidden gems, the park offers camping, tours, and sand castle building! Get additional information from the park service: http://www.nps.gov/grsa/index.htm
Photo courtesy of nps.gov.
Creed, CO is a small town, one of the smallest in the state, that lies in the heart of the San Juan Mountains. It is literally sandwiched in a dead-end canyon. Spend the night at #1 Old Firehouse Bed & Breakfast and Restaurant one night and catch a ride on the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad the next day. The town lies almost on top of the Rio Grande River, so if the season is right rafting and fishing are also options. Info at: www.theoldfirehouse.com, and www.coloradotrain.com.
For the 4-wheelers of the bunch, this is a prime destination. Forest roads wind off in all directions and offer plenty of adventure and surprise. The Bachelor’s Loop is a popular sightseeing drive for mine enthusiasts and history buffs alike. Right outside of town, the access is easy, but the path is more difficult often requiring a strong 4×4 vehicle capable of handling steep slopes and rough terrain. For directions: www.sangres.com
Creede is the only municipality in the aptly named mineral county. The geology of the area is nothing short of spectacular; fragile capstones, needles and spires cover the landscape. Rockhounding is a hobby from the past, but is still well alive in Creede. Bring a sledge hammer to the Wheeler Geologic Area to search for some pale Colorado amethyst. The Wolf Creek ski area offers some stunning powder as well. Historically one of the hardest hit ski areas (with snow that is), wolf creek is the place to go for fresh powder and great views.
Like many early mining settlements in Colorado, the town of Gothic is nothing more than a few cabins, a research laboratory, and a local convenience store anymore. The ghost town is full of history though, and not to be overlooked. It is nestled near the base of Mt. Crested Butte and just a few miles out of the town of Crested Butte, a quaint Colorado mountain retreat for the locals only. Its positioning in the heart of the mountains gives views of many peaks including the Maroon Bells and Capital and Conundrum peaks.
The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory currently calls Gothic its home and engages scientists and students in researching rare alpine species. Its location at nearly 10,000’ above sea level makes it a unique location for biodiversity.
Off-roading is highly popular in the area given the close proximity to Pearl and Schofield passes and many other 4×4 roads. The views are absolutely unbeatable and the valley facilitates many other activities. Fly fishing in the pristine streams or in the nearby Taylor River is not only popular but very profitable. A number of private ranches also offer horseback rides that get off the beaten path and take you into the forest and separate the cowboys and cowgirls from the city slickers. Fantasy Ranch Outfitters provides a great experience for a fair price. Their guides are friendly and engaging and their horses are well taken care of. For more information, visit their site at www.fantasyranchoutfitters.com.
Just outside of Gothic is the ghost town of Crystal. While the town is a unique site, it is famous for one of Colorado’s most photographed locations: Crystal Mill. Anyone that is willing to hike a short distance can experience this historic site for themselves.
Located in Western Colorado’s West Elk Mountains, Paonia is your typical small town America. It is a friendly and beautiful place that is great for living and vacationing. Founded in the 1800s, Paonia is a farming town dedicated to organics and coal mining. The art scene is picking up to include many alternative professions and forms of entertainment. The city also has a substantial residency of developers of alternative energy; fitting for the Colorado Rocky Mountains.
Paonia is set beneath the 11,400 foot Mount Lamborn, a spectacular scene at all times of the year and a great outlet for outdoor activities. The town also nearly borders the West Elk Wilderness area, which offers amazing hiking, biking and horseback riding as well as camping and backpacking. Permits are required and the area is subject to special regulations, so check with the forest service before your trip. On the other side of Paonia are the sprawling and stunning cherry orchards, vineyards, wineries, cattle ranches and other fruit farms. These offer a great chance for tourism and visitation (plus free samples). The local products are excellent and are worth the trip.
Access to Paonia is easiest from Grand Junction, CO or Glenwood Springs, CO. From each city the drive is between one and a half to two hours through beautiful country. Denver is a longer drive at about four hours. The town is also home to a handful of restaurants, a movie theater, an airport and a town park with a gazebo stage that serves as a beautiful venue for festivals and weddings.
The town is known for its annual Cherry Days festival in celebration of the local orchards. For information on the get together, visit the Paonia chamber of commerce. http://www.paoniachamber.com/
Another great attraction is the nearby Paonia State Park which attracts nature photographers from around the country to shoot beautiful wildflowers. The aspen forests and wildlife don’t hurt either. The park’s crystalline reservoir is another great escape for fisherman and canoers alike. Camping is available in the park as well as a multitude of hiking and biking trails. http://www.parks.state.co.us/parks/paonia/Pages/PaoniaStateParkHome.aspx
When visiting, Staying at the Bross Hotel bed and breakfast is a must. It opened in 1906 and retains much of the original elegance and culture as it was built with. The hotel provides ten guest rooms each with private baths and beautiful views. Outside of the building are perennial gardens and a deck with a hot tub, perfect for relaxing on any day! The hotel is only one block from the downtown area and is just another addition to make your trip to Paonia that much better. For more information and to make reservations, visit their website: http://www.paonia-inn.com/.